By MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.- After his freshman season at the University of Washington, Cristian Roldan was offered a Generation Adidas contract by MLS and a chance to turn pro immediately. But Monday’s MLS Homegrown game gave Roldan a chance to see what he could have been facing on a regular basis.
The former Gatorade National High School Player of the Year suited up for the Portland Timbers Under-23 team in their 0-0 draw against the MLS Homegrown squad. And despite having only played a handful of PDL matches for the Washington Crossfire, Roldan now believes he is ready to play on the same level as his Monday opponents.
“The competition was great. I do believe that I can now play on that side,” Roldan said. “I am confident enough. I think last year I wasn’t ready.”
A native of Pico Rivera, Calif., Roldan has been in the Pacific Northwest for more than a year since playing for the Crossfire’s PDL team in 2013 and 2014 while also starring for the Washington Huskies. Roldan was a star for the Huskies as he shared the team lead in goals with six on his way to being named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
Roldan said more than anything else, his college coaches deserve the credit for getting him ready to compete with professionals.
“Being under Jamie Clark, he has prepared me enough. He has made me a better player. I appreciate what he does,” Roldan said. “Jeff Rowland and (former Washington and current Real Salt Lake assistant coach) Craig Waibel also played a big part and Rich Reese played a big part in the player I am today.”
While Roldan could have already been in MLS, he continues to try to mirror the young stars of the league including one of his opponents on Monday.
“Everyone tries to emulate someone at some point. I think Harrison Shipp is a good example to MLS, to Homegrowns, to young players,” Roldan said. “He’s a great competitor, confident on the ball, never loses it, he’s just a role model to us young guys.”
Roldan has been able to work with members of both the Sounders and Timbers organizations while in the offseason from his college team. The midfielder did admit that is was a “weird feeling” to wear a Timbers kit due to his current home in Seattle. And while he says he doesn’t have a favorite MLS side, he said both clubs, along with the LA Galaxy, play a style of soccer that would mesh well with his skills.
“Credit to the Sounders and Portland who have brought me in and have given me the necessary tools to play faster here at the professional level,” Roldan said. “I give credit to them and hopefully I can be in MLS one day.”